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United States Supreme Court

84 U.S. 489

Carpenter  v.  United States

APPEAL from the Court of Claims; the case as found by that court having been thus:

In July, 1863, Major Hunt, of the corps of engineers, entered into negotiations with one Carpenter, owner of an island in Narragansett Bay, for the purchase of it by the United States for military uses; and a parol contract for the purchase and sale was then formally concluded; the terms being approved by the Secretary of War. The price, as stipulated, was $21,000. In August following, the officers of the government, with the consent of Carpenter, entered into possession of the island and began to prepare for fortifying it. The possession then taken they have ever since retained. Upon examination, however, it was found and so reported by the Attorney-General, that under an act of May 1st, 1820, [1] an executrive department had by law no authority to purchase land on account of the government. Consequently the verbal arrangement with Carpenter remained unconsummated, until 1866. On the 12th of June, of that year, Congress made an appropriation for the purchase of sites then occupied, and proposed to be occupied for sea-coast defence, and on the 7th of August next following, the purchase-money of the island ($21,000) was paid to Carpenter, and accepted by him without any claim for interest or rents, so far as it appeared, and he delivered a deed for the property to the United States. In this state of things Carpenter now, December 7th, 1867, filed a petition in the Court of Claims, claiming compensation from the United States for the use and occupation of the island from the time the United States officers, with his consent, took possession, after the verbal arrangement to purchase, until the deed was made and the purchase-money was paid, that is, from August, 1863, to August, 1866.

The question was whether, upon the case stated, an action for use and occupation could be sustained.

The Court of Claims, as appeared by its opinion, [2] considered that the law (i. e., the statute of 11 George II, chapter 19, § 14) which gives the action for use and occupation always required that some contract of demise should subsist; in other words, that the relation of landlord and tenant must be established; [3] that there was no such relationship here. That independently of this the claim rested on an implied contract, but that where there was an express contract to buy, a contract to pay rent could not arise by mere inference. Relying on these views, and citing the English case of Kirtland v. Pounsett, [4] it accordingly decreed a dismissal of the petition. From that decree the claimant appealed.

Messrs. J. M. Carlisle and J. D. McPherson, for the appellant:

The right to sue for use and occupation does not rest, as the court below assumed, on the statute of 11 George II. It existed previously; though until the passing of the statute mentioned the plaintiff was nonsuited, if a demise was proved. [5] Use and occupation may well lie without a demise.

The English case of Kirtland v. Pounsett, cited by the Court of Claims, does not apply. The report says:

'Mansfield, C. J., at first inclined to think the action might be supported; for that if a man had contracted for the purchase of an estate of the annual value of many thousand pounds, and had through the imprudence of the vendor been permitted to take possession, which he might possibly retain for several years pending the discussion of the title in a court of equity, it would be strange if the purchaser could hold possession and receive the profits during all that time without paying any consideration for it to the vendor. But upon the ground that during all the defendant's occupation of the premises the plaintiff had been in possession of the purchase money, of which he had made or might have made interest, the Chief Justice directed a nonsuit, with liberty to move to set it aside.'


^1  3 Stat. at Large, 568.

^2  6 Court of Claims, 162.

^3  It having been held in Brett v. Read (1 W. Jones, 329) that where there had been an actual lease, action for use and occupation would not lie, the statute of 11 George II, chapter 19, § 14, enacted that—

'It should be lawful for a landlord, where the agreement was not by deed, to recover a reasonable satisfaction for the lands, tenements, or hereditaments held or occupied by the defendant, in an action on the case for the use and occupation of what was so held or enjoyed; and if, on the trial of such action, any parol demise, or any agreement (not being by deed) whereon a certain rent was reserved, should appear, the plaintiff in such action should not therefore be nonsuited, but might make use thereof as an evidence of the quantum of damages to be recovered.'-REP.

^4  2 Taunton, 145.

^5  Churchward v. Ford, 2 Hurlstone & Norman, 448.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).